Effects of egg yolk testosterone on growth and immunity in a precocial bird


Tobias Uller, Department of Zoology, Göteborg University, Medicinaregatan 18, 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden.
Tel.: +46 (0)31 773 36 96; fax: +46 (0)31 41 67 29;
e-mail: tobias.uller@zool.gu.se


In oviparous vertebrates, maternal steroid allocation to eggs can have important fitness consequences for the offspring. However, elevated testosterone levels are not only associated with beneficial postnatal effects, such as enhanced growth and high social status, but may also entail costs by suppressing the immune system. In this study, testosterone levels in eggs of Chinese painted quail (Coturnix chinensis) were experimentally manipulated to evaluate its effects on growth and immunocompetence. Testosterone did not affect embryonic development, body size or growth during the first 20 days. However, elevated testosterone levels during embryonic development were immunosuppressive for chicks with inherently higher growth rate. Adaptive scenarios where only beneficial effects of increased testosterone levels are considered may therefore need to be re-evaluated.